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Ask a scientist about Hollywood, and you'll probably get eye rolls. But ask someone in Hollywood about science, and they'll see dollar signs: moviemakers know that science can be the source of great stories, with all the drama and action that blockbusters require.
That's a huge mistake, says Randy Olson: Hollywood has a lot to teach scientists about how to tell a story – and, ultimately, how to do science better. With Houston, We Have a Narrative, he lays out a stunningly simple method for turning the dull into the dramatic. Drawing on his unique background, which saw him leave his job as a working scientist to launch a career as a filmmaker, Olson first diagnoses the problem: When scientists tell us about their work, they pile one moment and one detail atop another moment and another detail-a stultifying procession of "and, and, and."
What we need instead is an understanding of the basic elements of story, the narrative structures that our brains are all but hardwired to look for-which Olson boils down, brilliantly, to "And, But, Therefore," or ABT. At a stroke, the ABT approach introduces momentum ("And"), conflict ("But"), and resolution ("Therefore") – the fundamental building blocks of story. As Olson has shown by leading countless workshops worldwide, when scientists' eyes are opened to ABT, the effect is staggering: suddenly, they're not just talking about their work – they're telling stories about it. And audiences are captivated.
Written with an uncommon verve and enthusiasm, and built on principles that are applicable to fields far beyond science, Houston, We Have a Narrative has the power to transform the way science is understood and appreciated, and ultimately how it's done.
Why Science Needs Story
1 Science is stuck in a narrative world
2 ___ the humanities ought to help
3 ___ the humanities are useless for this
4 _________ Hollywood to the rescue
5 Methods: Narrative Tools—The WSP Model
6 Methods: Word—The Dobzhansky Template
7 Methods: Sentence—The ABT Template
8 Methods: Paragraph—The Hero’s Journey
9 Results: The Narrative Spectrum
10 Results: Four Case Studies
11 Science needs story
12 ___ Hollywood can help
13 ___ narrative training requires a different mindset
14 _________ I recommend Story Circles
Appendix 1 The Narrative Tools
Appendix 2 Narrative Vocabulary
Appendix 3 Twitter “Stories”
Randy Olson was a tenured professor of marine biology at the University of New Hampshire before moving to Hollywood and entering film school at the University of Southern California. He has written and directed a number of films, including the acclaimed Flock of Dodos and he is the author of numerous successful books, including Don't Be Such A Scientist.
"Olson brings the mind of a scientist to the search for structure within narrative which he has now codified for the mass communicator. His new book on narrative provides simple, powerful templates that are widely applicable."
– Nancy Duarte, CEO, Duarte, Inc., and best-selling author
"The ultimate science story coach."
– Andrew Revkin, New York Times
"Though Olson argues that the centrality of narrative is universal and timeless (he is good at invoking Aristotle and Hegel in his support), one of his best points is that, in the wake of the knowledge explosion and the digital onslaught, we need the simplifying effects of story more than ever to cope with the problem of massive information overload. Olson's own writing is itself a model of how to cut through today's cognitive clutter: he's audacious and unafraid to be provocative, qualities that made it easy for me to read his book straight through at a sitting."
– Gerald Graff, author of Clueless in Academe
"Applying a screenwriting scientist's eye to everything from the Gettysburg Address to the discovery of DNA to global climate change, Olson shows how closely the principles of great narrative can match up with the scientific process. More important, he lays out in clear, specific steps what scientists can do to bridge the unnecessary but persistent gap between good science and good story. The results ought to be of enormous benefit to both science and the public."
– David H. Freedman, contributing editor, The Atlantic
"From Aristotle to South Park, Randy Olson has mined story-telling wisdom through the ages to develop this funny, helpful guide for scientists who want to meld minds with the rest of the human race. He shows why scientists need to tell stories, and then he shows them how to do it."
– Carl Zimmer, author of Parasite Rex